“When I grow up, I want to be a CIO”, said no child...ever! Firefighter, police officer, doctor, just about anything...but not CIO! So, how did we all end up there? Over the past year, I have asked a dozen CIOs that very question. “What did you want to be when you grew up. . . and how did you end up as a CIO? “
I had the privilege to speak with leaders from across the country. They came from large global organizations and small companies making a huge local impact. The companies represented a vast array of verticals, including, software, consulting, non-profit, construction and manufacturing. Although, they all took widely different paths to the office of CIO, there are some common threads...besides having a Commodore 64.
Leaders are born AND made
It is a debate that has gone for decades, perhaps even centuries. Are leaders born or made? As you read through the interviews that make up The Path to CIO, you will find the answer. Leaders are both born and made. Each may have had a spark within them, but without friends, mentors and the leaders around them to light their way, they never would have been able to light the way for others.
Not only did these leaders have someone in their lives who mentored and challenged them, they have also mentored and challenged others. They have learned that in a good mentor-mentee relationship both participants gain insights.
Leaders are confident
All of the CIOs I interviewed exuded confidence. Not a “I know it all” confidence, but the confidence that comes from knowing they don’t know it all. A confidence in their ability to learn, a confidence from the ability to observe and understand, and a confidence in their ability to surround themselves with smart...very smart...people. This confidence enables them to take on new challenges knowing they will be able to navigate through them.
Each of them is dedicated to lifelong learning. In fact, if they are not learning, they grow restless and begin to seek new challenges. That dedication helps to build their confidence.
Speaking of surrounding themselves with smart people. Many of the CIOs I spoke with talked about the importance of a strong professional network. In the ever changing world of technology, it is impossible to stay up on all the latest trends and changes. They know by having a strong network helps spread the load. You learn who you can call to ask questions, bounce ideas, and share insights. Together, we are all stronger and smarter.
Several of the CIOs emphasized the importance of a cross industry networking group. It is surprising how a problem solved in one industry can provide the key to a solution in another.
Leaders take risks
Each and everyone of leaders I spoke with had taken multiple risks in their career. Rarely did they settle for the “safe choice”, whether that was to lead their department and company in a completely different direction, or whether it was to accept a career challenge on the other side of the globe. They didn’t go into these situations blindly, they gathered information, analyzed the information and...made the leap.
They relied on their knowledge, they relied on the guidance of those around them, they relied on the talents of those on their teams and they met the challenge head on.
IT Leaders know it’s not about IT
It’s about the business. Whether you are in construction, non-profit, consulting, SaaS, or manufacturing, it’s about understanding the business, understanding the challenges, having the vision to see future challenges AND bringing technology to solve those challenges when and where it makes sense. It’s not about technology for technology’s sake. All of the leaders spoke the language of their business.
These leaders left the data center. They spent time embedded with their peers. They walked in the shoes of those performing the day-to-day of the business. And, they met with, spoke with, and interacted with the customers of the business.
CIOs of the future
One of the CIOs declined to be interviewed. In her response, she told me, “Your premise is wrong. What got us to the office of CIO, will not work in the future. Your readers will need different skills.” Actually, she was only partially right. Yes, the future will require different skills, however, I believe the traits shared among these CIOs will also be required of the CIOs of the future.
I asked each of the CIOs what advice would they give to those around them, or to the readers who aspire to gain the office. The callout boxes in this post share that advice. I urge you to read all of the interviews in the series. Pay specific attention to their advice. Reach out to them and follow them on social media, as they continue to learn, you will continue to learn. Take the risk to share your insights with them, I know they want to learn from you as well.